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Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Greener Grass

As the days of my separation extend and I ride the rollercoaster of my emotions, I have continued to ponder the great conundrum as to why once strong relationships flounder and fail.

I think as a society, we appear to have all become somewhat complacent about the whole idea of divorce and separation.

Was it started by Henry VIII?

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, since 1995, there have been between 46,000 to 50,000 divorces each and every year with around 1.8 children per divorce and the median length of marriage around 12 years.

The global view is even more depressing.  The divorce rate (2014)in the US is 53%.  In Spain, Portugal, Luxembourg, Czech Republic and Hungary the rates are around 60% while poor old Belgium has the highest rate of divorce in the world at 70%!  (Conversely, the Chileans it seems make good marriage material with the official rate at 3%).

Why do so many marriages fail?

The list of reasons for divorce are diverse and as infinite as the imagination allows.  Let's face it: the human species has one remarkable talent and that is the ability to rationalise just about anything.

The fact is, if you want to find a reason to justify just about any behaviour - positive or negative - you can.   Obviously, in the marriages that survive, it's the positives that are emphasised whereas, the rest.... Well, if they want a reason to call it a day, the ball of string is long.

For instance, consider the woman who divorced her husband because he wasn't into the movie 'Frozen'.  Or the couple who divorced because they disagreed about the proper way to eat peas.  Or the Taiwanese lady who wanted 'out' the day after her wedding night as she discovered her bloke was a little short changed in the bait and tackle?

In a 1997 survey the  Australian Institute of Family Studies reported that 71% of Aussies blamed 'affective issues' on marital breakdown including (in order):

  • communication problems
  • loss of connection
  • infidelity/trust issues
  • physical or emotional abuse
  • alcohol and drug abuse
  • financial problems
  • physical health or mental health issues
  • work/time pressures and finally
  • family interference.

This is the only study of its kind that exists and, while the stats are growing a few whiskers, I'm sure they still hold water today.

Yep. There are plenty of reasons why two people-in-a-gazillion randomly get together, feel some lusty thought arising in their groins, tie the knot and blah-de-blah-de-blah.

Be that as it may,  from my lenghty ponderings I am going to offer up what I believe to be the most common reason why so many marriage break up.  And it is this and this only: the lack of effort.

We simply take our significant other for granted, and eventually there comes a day when one or both begin to imagine a different world where the grass is thicker, juicier and so blindingly verdant it is seductive.

We are too ready to throwaway relationships and why not?

We throw just about everything else away.  Everything has a use-by date, doesn't it?  White goods that once lasted decades are lucky to make it past a few years.  Cellphones are updated annually with people queueing for hours to ensure they are first to get the newest releases.  Even camcorders are disposable.  It's always about the latest and most modern.   (I know one of my expanding universe of divorced friends somewhat callously described his new squeeze as 'an upgrade'.)

As soon as a product smells of yesterday, out it goes, our insatiable desire to be trendy and current fuelled by the unstoppable monster of consumerism.   No wonder op shops are full of unwanted possessions, many still in their wrapping.   There is such an overflow of second-hand crap in fact that some charities can now afford to be choosy.

The culture of throwing away rather than fixing and reusing is therefore increasingly entrenched.

So when relationships start struggling, I believe, many couples just decide to chuck it in, encouraged perhaps by the catalogues of potential replacements just a click away and at their finger tips thanks to 1000s of meet-up and dating sites and applications.  And not to mention poverty-stricken Asian women on the hunt for a sugar daddy.    You can shop for a new partner on the go - it's bloody convenient.  One touch and Mr Swipe Right can be manifested on a magic carpet, straight to your bedroom door.

It's a shame, but based on my observations and experiences to date, I am simply not convinced that modern man is engineered to 'mate for life'.  S/he is losing or has already lost the concept of "forever" and vows of commitment it seems, come with the caveat:  'I do... until I don't'.

We have lost the ability to stick at things, ruined by the world of instant gratification in which we live where anything that takes time, work and patience is discarded.

It doesn't help that Hollywood feeds us on a diet on impossible romances where, for instance, corporate lawyers (Tea Leone) return home after a full day in the court to shag their husbands (Nicholas Cage) on the kitchen bench.  

We crave ideals and perfection.  We are set up to fail.

But you can turn this model on its head and there are many marriages that do.  I am fortunate to know many childhood sweethearts who dote on each other so lovingly I feel like puking.  (No actually, it's very sweet.)

Here are seven lessons we might learn from them:
  1. Set your marriage up for success from the get-go.  Do regular maintenance so you extend its use-by date.  Check the oil.  Inflate the tyres.  
  2. Do routine spot-checks (as per my previous blog and the excellent suggestion of my friend, Cath).  A five year check-in may work wonders, helping couples to identify issues and to take corrective action.
  3. Instead of pining for the greener grass, think about how you might improve the grass you have. Has it gone to seed?  Then fertilise it.  Give it some water.  
  4. Make your marriage a priority.  Trust me, you don't want to go through divorce.  It's harder than going through chemo - and that is saying something.
  5. Don't be smug.  You think your husband or wife said something about their feelings years ago but all of us change. Shit happens.  We forget.  Nurture, nurture, nurture.
  6. Do a cost-benefit analysis.  Think of the costs of losing your marriage versus the benefits of keeping it.  As I've tried to point out in a previous blog, the costs can be extremely high, such as the loss of access to children.  Whatever slight or wrong or personality defect you perceive, just how vexatious is it to tolerate or adapt to when compared to the destruction you might leave in the wake of a divorce?
  7. Communicate.  I know couples who go on regular 'date nights' but even these are useless without communication.  Put away your smartphones and iPads.  Gaze into each others eyes and speak meaningfully.
Finally, accept that we are all imperfect and therefore most relationships are, inevitably, doomed to also be imperfect.

Life is not a Hollywood movie, people.  Marriage is a lot of drudgery. It can be at times exhausting, unsatisfying, boring, repetitive, predictable, unhappy, unpleasant, frustrating, challenging, difficult, destructive, distressing, disheartening and far from domestically blissful. 

But with some TLC and the right attitude, you'll learn to focus on the times that were anything but - when you really felt buoyed by the simple fact of being an 'us', when you knew how to make plans together and shared a journey propelling you toward a mutual dream. When days were truly diamond, not coal. Remember how that felt?

I beg you.  Don't make yours a throwaway relationship.

You, too, can be among those lucky enough to grow old together (barring sudden death of course).

Forget the statistics.  Who cares about the median?

Make the effort.  

Whatever the outcome, at least you know you tried. 

And I'd give you marks for that.  


Sunday, January 22, 2017

Poem 1

Years ago, when Alan and I moved into our first home together, in Paddington, there used to be a weak and mangy mango tree that stuck out of the brick work along one boundary.  I was so excited about having this tree in my backyard.

The first year we were there, it produced a handful of mangy fruit.  
The second year was a beauty.  The tree threw out the most massive mango I have seen to this day (and I can tell you, it was up against stiff competition as my dad is a Mango farmer).   I was so excited.  I thought that this tree was going to keep me in mangoes for life.

Unfortunatley though, the next year, the tree produced absolutely nothing.  Nada.  Nil. Zilch.  After that it wilted and died - I'm not even sure I noticed as I was disgusted with it.

I often thought of this tree whenever I had a fertile period.  

I wondered if I would one day have a golden season and then, like the tree, would I, too, wilt, wither and die?

Well as it so happens, I did have a golden season.

In 2009 and 2010, I experienced days of such intense and wonderful creativity, it was incredible.  And the proof of it was a whole stack of poems I produced.  I would go to the coffee shop of a morning, pull out my notepad and out would come a verse that needed little work.  I was on a roll.

And then, of course, in 2011, it all went to pot.

Sadly, I haven't actually managed to write a poem ever since other than one very bad limerick. (Any fool can rhyme 'prick' with 'dick').

Today I've decided to begin sharing at least some of that poetry left over from a happier and more fertile time.

The one I have chosen today was written about a couple as a Husband speaks to his Wife who has died.  I hope you enjoy it.  (It made my friend Cath cry)...

Of My Sly Living


Of my sly living I’ll speak but only after I am gone,
and then you’ll know it solely in the vestiges
of things I’ve left, those mere suggestions of my
being here at all.  

On the bed sheets washed and folded you’ll
find the rims of tears I’ve cried with gratitude for
mercies small and aching for those secret needs I knew would
never be achieved,

In the mirror is concealed a  corner where the  vapors of my breathing once formed
circles as I brushed my hair and nursed my countless worries at the
cruelties of time.  

On the floors are traced the outlines of my footfalls as I 
nursed our seven babies through the dawn suns,
looking forward with pure longing to the day I would
at last be free.

And on the couch are indents I have made where, as you slept,
I sat alone at night, the weight of withered dreams a load
that kept me tethered until I
finally lost hold,

Yet if you listen closely you will hear my joy
despite it all, the echoes of each sound I made
to indicate just how I felt when life would bear us up
and bring us down.  

And you’ll hear me singing out of tune while dressing up
to go to town to celebrate the sixty years we’d
shared as man and wife, not knowing yet how soon
the end would come. 

But now I’m gone, you know you can speak to me when 
e'er you miss me, for there I am in all the countless
unseen places - in  those vestiges of me
I’ve left behind. 


I heard your foot steps, love, more loudly than you knew
for every moment that you lived  I inhaled as if
you were  my very air, you were my skin,
you were my all.

With grateful heart I breathed the citrus scents
of all your toils  and heard your cries palpating through the rooms
that stank of all your naked need for stars  that stayed
beyond your reach

I watched you sometimes stare too long upon your
image in the glass, smacked breathless that
you could  not see my frank appreciation of your timeless beauty that
remained  sublime,

I relied upon the stronghold you kept upon our dreams,
as carer of our children who justified my daily grind and
were the lamps that every night would guide
you home to me.

And when you left our bed, of course, I comprehended
you were contemplating, as you were, that empty cup
I could  not hope to fill; my well was sadly
never deep enough.

But through your icy disaffection I could sense your pulse, dear love,
a warm and steady beat that anchored us, that
certainty we so needed when crises meant our life
was difficult.

I can hear you singing lullabies, I hear you pace the floor,
I see your face, each move it made, as sixty years flew by
so fast and then,  so suddenly you went
that still I'm numb.

Your sly living, love, is not enough - I miss the warmth of you,
for what I smell and feel of you won’t ease  my grief nor
help me sleep for me, alone, is all
you’ve left behind.